Saturday, August 04, 2012

China hits back at US over South China Sea

China on Saturday voiced "its strong dissatisfaction and opposition" after the United States accused Beijing of raising tensions by setting up a new military garrison in the South China Sea.

Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang was cited by the official Xinhua news agency as making the remarks after the United States hit out at China over its decision last week to establish the garrison in the disputed Paracel islands.

The US criticism "completely ignored the facts, deliberately confounded right and wrong, sending a seriously wrong signal," Qin was quoted as saying in a statement.

It did not help efforts aimed at "safeguarding the peace and stability of the South China Sea and the Asia Pacific region," he said.

China's decision to establish the garrison and the tiny city of Sansha in the hotly contested archipelago infuriated other claimants Vietnam and the Philippines, which accused Beijing of intimidation.

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said in a statement Friday that the United States was "concerned by the increase in tensions in the South China Sea and are monitoring the situation closely".

"In particular, China's upgrading of the administrative level of Sansha city and establishment of a new military garrison there covering disputed areas of the South China Sea run counter to collaborative diplomatic efforts to resolve differences and risk further escalating tensions in the region," he said.

China says it controls much of the South China Sea, but Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam all claim portions. Vietnam and the Philippines have accused China of stepping up harassment at sea.-ABS-CBN News (August 04, 2012 10:15PM)

Friday, August 03, 2012

ASEAN parliament leaders to meet in Indonesia's Lombok

Indonesia's West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) province is scheduled to host the 33rd ASEAN Inter-Parliament Assembly (AIPA) from Sept. 16 to 22, NTB Governor Zainul Maidi said on Thursday.

"Around 350 people, including parliament leaders from 10 ASEAN nations, will take part in 2012 AIPA slated to be held in Lombok this September," he said.

Zainul added that event was scheduled to be opened by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in the province's capital city of Mataram.

"We have a lot of places in Mataram city where the ASEAN Inter- Parliamentary Assembly can be held," Zainul said in Mataram.

He said the 2012 AIPA would discuss further cooperation with African countries' parliaments following the signing of MoU on Feb. 17 this year between AIPA Chairman Marzuki Alie and Pan African Parliament (PAP) President Moussa Idriss Ndele.

The MoU was signed when Marzuki and Moussa met at the 6th Ordinary Session of Pan African Parliament at the UN Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, early this year, the Antara news service reported.

During the meeting, Marzuki raised several important points concerning the relations between the two regional institutions.

He also proposed ways to strengthen the relationship between AIPA and PAP, to which Moussa had responded positively.-The Philippine Star (August 03, 2012)

China 'ropes' Scarborough Shoal

China is preventing Philippine ships from entering the Scarborough Shoal lagoon by blocking its entrance with a buoy and rope, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Thursday.

He said the Coast Guard has yet to decide whether to remove the buoy and rope in the atoll located just 124 nautical miles off Zambales.

"We still don't know what to do. Number one, there is an inclement weather and we cannot go there. We will let you know as soon as we get that decision," he said.

Gazmin, in a press briefing at Camp Aguinaldo, said the Coast Guard had been sending aircraft to the area to monitor the movement of Chinese ships.

"The last report I received from the Coast Guard is that they (Chinese) placed a rope at the entrance of the shoal but as of yesterday and today, there is no (updated) report because you know the prevailing inclement weather. Our Islander cannot fly," he said.

Two Chinese government ships -- a surveillance ship and a fisheries law enforcement command vessel -- were last seen at the shoal.

"There is a need for us to talk to reach a solution to this problem," he said.-ABS-CBN News (July 02, 2012 8:52PM)

Cambodia envoy still a no-show

Cambodia’s top diplomat in the Philippines still has not shown up at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) despite being summoned to explain his serious accusations against the host government.

DFA sources said that the department is giving Cambodian Ambassador Hos Sereythonh time to appear at the DFA to meet with Undersecretary for Policy Erlinda Basilio.

Hos has not appeared at the DFA despite official summons, claiming he has the flu.

DFA said the ambassador cannot ignore his host government’s summons, which could be reason to declare a diplomat persona non grata, but that might be “too harsh.”

“It’s a diplomatic practice, you come if invited. Any diplomat knows the consequence if he does not come after being summoned. The role of an ambassador is ‘to make friends and win friends for your country.’ Let’s wait, let’s give him time,” a source told The STAR.

Sources said the DFA believe it was not appropriate for a diplomat to communicate his anger without first holding discussions with the host government.

“Why did he not see the DFA first?” another source said.

A former DFA official and retired diplomat, who requested anonymity, said the ambassador should be given warning if he still fails to appear at the DFA.

“He claims health reasons but that’s subject to proof. He can’t just ignore a request of the host government and claim health reasons,” he said.

The retired diplomat said, “I think informally this should be discussed between the capitals and if at all, quietly.”

“After all, Cambodia and the Philippines are ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nation) members. I don’t know if Phnom Penh has already talked to him (Hos) or not. My concern is this thing should not exacerbate further the uneasy relations between the Philippines and Cambodia,” he added.

The ambassador was summoned again on Tuesday but he informed the DFA that he was unable to come as he was indisposed and had to be represented by Cambodian embassy Second Secretary Tan Chandaravuth.

The DFA asked Hos to authorize the release to the public of evidence which should end all speculation on what really happened in Phnom Penh last month when the chairman objected to the issuance of a joint communiqué.

Hos was originally summoned to appear at the DFA on Monday but begged off for health reasons.

The DFA will continue summoning the ambassador even as the note verbale containing the protest for Hos’ serious accusations against the Philippines was handed to Tan by Basilio.

Basilio asked Tan to convey to the ambassador the need to explain what were laid down and the serious accusations he made in his letter to the editor published in The STAR.

The DFA pointed out that Basilio was present in all the meetings in Phnom Penh and the ambassador was not.

Hos was also asked by the DFA to explain his accusation that “dirty politics” was behind the “inflexible and non-negotiable” position of the Philippines and Vietnam on the inclusion of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute with China in the joint communiqué.

When asked if the ambassador could be declared persona non grata, DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez said, “We are not going there yet.”

“What is important is for him to explain to us what he meant by the statement that he had released or written in that letter to the editor in The Philippine STAR.”

The DFA defended Basilio from Hos’ accusation that she had tried to manipulate, distort and exaggerate developments in the West Philippine Sea involving China in order to make her case.

Hos had also claimed that Basilio’s article, “What happened in Phnom Penh?” represented the country’s official position.

Basilio, Hernandez said, is “a professional diplomat with an unblemished record of nearly 50 years of service to the country.”

“Her statements were objective, factual and true,” he said.-The Philippine Star (August 03, 2012)

China ends fishing ban, unveils 'oil offensive'

China has announced that the two-and-half-month summer fishing moratorium in some parts of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) ended on Wednesday.

In an announcement posted on the Chinese government’s web portal yesterday, China said it has implemented a summer fishing moratorium from May 16 to Aug. 1 as a routine annual measure to rehabilitate the area’s marine resources.

The Chinese government said in May that the annual fishing ban, which has been in place since 1999, covered areas north of the 12th parallel, including Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, which China calls Huangyan Island, but excluding most of the Nansha (Spratly) Islands.

The South China Fishery Administration Bureau under the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) said the fishing ban was adopted to promote the sustainable development of the fishing industry in the West Philippine Sea and protect the fundamental interests of fishermen.

The fishing ban is also applicable to foreign ships.

Chinese enforcement of the ban earlier sparked tensions with Vietnam. Manila also did not recognize the ban, saying it is an “encroachment” of the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Panatag Shoal is an integral part of the Philippine territory, 124 nautical miles from the nearest base point in Zambales province. It is within the Philippines’ 200 nautical miles EEZ and continental shelf.

The Philippines’ claim of sovereignty in Panatag Shoal is supported by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and international law is clear in terms of the fact that Panatag Shoal is well within the Philippines 200-nautical mile EEZ and also within its continental shelf.

China stands on a historical claim which the Philippines feels is not supported by UNCLOS. 

Joint exploration difficult without a binding code of conduct

Malacañang admitted yesterday that it would be difficult to enter into joint exploration contracts with China and other claimants in the West Philippine Sea, particularly the Kalayaan Island Group or Spratlys, without a binding code of conduct that would spell out the guidelines for countries.

“It will be very difficult for one or two countries to go in there and simply begin exploring while there’s no set of ground rules in place. The code of conduct seeks to establish ground rules so that if any activity were undertaken in the disputed territories, then they would be consistent with what has been agreed upon. Right now it remains an aspiration until certain agreements can be reached with our claimant countries,” Secretary Ricky Carandang of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office explained. He also stressed there should be no issue in the Philippines’ inviting bids for oil exploration early this week, saying that the service areas were well within the country’s territory.

“We are bidding out areas for exploration within Philippine territory. This is not part of what is generally considered disputed territory. This is not part of the Spratlys, not part of the Kalayaan Islands. This is part of Philippine territory so we don’t see any problem with that,” he noted. Carandang said that while the contracts contained “no explicit security guarantee,” the Department of Energy, the Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine Navy would ensure that there were regular patrols to protect investors.

“Remember, we’ve been issuing service contracts for the last 30, 40 years and there have never been issues in the past with regard to the issues that we face now. So service contracts do not have an explicit security guarantee. Having said that though, there are companies that have done exploration in Philippine waters that we’re helping to coordinate,” Carandang said. 

Military steps up territorial patrols

Despite the prevailing weather condition in the West Philippine Sea, China has maintained its presence in Panatag Shoal, only 124 nautical miles from Zambales.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said that based on latest monitoring, two Chinese ships continue to linger in Panatag.

“As of this morning, we don’t have an update, but as far as I know there are two (Chinese) ships in the area,” said Gazmin in a media dialogue yesterday.

Gazmin said recent monitoring showed that a Chinese Fishery and Law Enforcement Command (FLEC) and one of its maritime surveillance ships are still in the area.

The Defense chief also confirmed that Chinese ships have already laid down buoys and lines at the entrance of the shoal’s lagoon.

Asked about plans to redeploy Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessels in the area, Gazmin said that there’s no order yet coming from the national leadership. -The Philippine Star (August 03, 2012)

China restricts Ramadan fasting in restive Xinjiang

Authorities in China's restive northwestern region of Xinjiang have banned Muslim officials and students from fasting during Ramadan, prompting an exiled rights group to warn of new violence.

Guidance posted on numerous government websites called on Communist Party leaders to restrict Muslim religious activities during the holy month, including fasting and visiting mosques.

Xinjiang is home to around nine million Uighurs, a Turkic speaking, largely Muslim ethnic minority, many of whom accuse China's leaders of religious and political persecution.

The region has been rocked by repeated outbreaks of ethnic violence, but China denies claims of repression and relies on tens of thousands of Uighur officials to help it govern Xinjiang.

A statement from Zonglang township in Xinjiang's Kashgar district said that "the county committee has issued comprehensive policies on maintaining social stability during the Ramadan period.

"It is forbidden for Communist Party cadres, civil officials (including those who have retired) and students to participate in Ramadan religious activities."

The statement, posted on the Xinjiang government website, urged party leaders to bring "gifts" of food to local village leaders to ensure that they were eating during Ramadan.

Similar orders on curbing Ramadan activities were posted on other local government websites, with the educational bureau of Wensu county urging schools to ensure that students do not enter mosques during Ramadan.

The holy month began in Xinjiang on July 20. The orders to curb religious activities were sent out across the region at different times, some before the start of Ramadan and some afterwards.

During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk and strive to be more pious and charitable.

An exiled rights group, the World Uyghur Congress, warned the policy would force "the Uighur people to resist (Chinese rule) even further."

"By banning fasting during Ramadan, China is using administrative methods to force the Uighur people to eat in an effort to break the fasting," said group spokesman Dilshat Rexit in a statement.

Xinjiang saw its worst ethnic violence in recent times in July, 2009, when Uighurs attacked members of the nation's dominant Han ethnic group in the city of Urumqi, sparking clashes in which 200 people from both sides died, according to the government.-Interaksyon (August 02, 2012 10:57PM)

Australia rules out US nuclear aircraft carrier base

Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith has rejected a proposal to base a US nuclear aircraft carrier and other warships in the country, a move that would rankle key trade partner China.

The idea of using the Australian navy's western base, HMAS Stirling near Perth, to host an American carrier group and other fighter jets was reportedly raised in a study of US military posture in the Asia-Pacific.

Media in Australia said the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) report, commissioned by the US Defence Department, had been submitted to Congress.

Smith said after a speech late Wednesday that while increased US access to HMAS Stirling was possible long-term, American aircraft carriers would not be based in Australia.

"The report is an independent report to the United States government. It's not a United States government document," he said.

"We don't have United States military bases in Australia and we are not proposing to. What we have talked about in terms of either increased aerial access or naval access is precisely that -- greater access to our facilities.

"The strategic rationale for that is the growing importance of India and the growing importance of the Indian Ocean rim, particularly in a naval and maritime sense."

In June, Pentagon chief Leon Panetta announced in Singapore that the United States would shift the bulk of its naval fleet to the Pacific by 2020 as part of a new strategic focus on Asia.

It followed a visit to Australia last year by US President Barack Obama, who announced an enhanced defence cooperation with Canberra which will see up to 2,500 US Marines deployed in the country.

The first troops touched down in April on a six-month rotational basis, based on the outskirts of the northern city of Darwin.

It is part of Washington's plan to bolster its military presence in the strategically vital Asia-Pacific, amid concerns about China's increasing assertiveness.

The CSIS report considers various options for increasing, decreasing or leaving US military presence in the region at its current level, Australian media said.

Another proposal in the report canvasses expanding the Marines' presence to a full air ground taskforce that would see thousands more troops in Australia's north, according to the Australian Financial Review.

But Smith played this down.

"There is no suggestion being made to us that Australia should receive such a large number of Marines transferred from Okinawa or from Guam," he said.

The United States announced in April it would pull 9,000 Marines out of Japan as it seeks to ease a long-running standoff over the future of its huge military presence in one of its top Asian allies.

In his speech on Australia's changing strategic circumstances, Smith highlighted the shift towards the Asia-Pacific as a region of global significance, particularly the Indian Ocean rim.

"The US, China and India will be the great strategic powers of our region and the international community," he said.

"The emergence of three great strategic powers in the region will see an adjustment in the balance of power across the region and around the globe.

"A continued, indeed enhanced, United States' presence in the Asia-Pacific is essential to peace and stability in our region," he added.-Interaksyon (August 02, 2012 2:47PM)

Taiwan wants to join ASEAN talks on Code of Conduct in West Philippine Sea

Taiwan expressed its intent to join a discussion of member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on its bid to draft the code of conduct in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) which aims to resolve territorial disputes in the region.

“If Taiwan is not able to take part in the discussions, any results achieved will be incomplete and regrettable,” Deputy Director-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs James Chou said in a report published in Focus Taiwan News Channel.

Taipei is also a claimant but cannot join multilateral talks because of the One China Policy. Its neighbors only recognize Beijing in diplomatic circles.

Unlike China, Taiwan favors taking up the disputes under a multilateral framework.

The Philippines has been pushing a multilateral approach in resolving the decades-old territorial disputes, but China maintained its stand that it will only talk with claimant-nations on a bilateral basis.

Chou said that even though Taiwan is not recognized by diplomatic circles, it will make sure that its “voice is heard by the international community through different channels”.

He added: “Taiwan stands firm on its sovereignty on the islands in the region and adheres to the principles of safeguarding its sovereignty, shelving disputes, rationality and peace, and joint exploration.” 

Chou added that the ministry has “closely monitored” the details of the high-level regional forum organized by Asean in Phnom Penh in the first week of July.

On July 25, Taiwan’s military announced its plan to deploy mortars and anti-aircraft on Taiping Island in the South China Sea due to the increasing movements by nations in the region, as it bids to assert its sovereignty over the disputed waters.

Taiwan and China, which formed its military garrison in the newly established Sansha City, has been claiming the largest island in the Spratly island group in the South China Sea and virtually almost all of the waters that are claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

Asean countries earlier signed a six-principle statement on resolving the territorial disputes, including the drafting of a more binding code based on the provisions of the 2002 Declaration on the Code of Conduct this August.

The Declaration on the Code of Conduct is a non-binding agreement that aims to reduce political tensions in the region.

The Asean bloc said the disputes must go through international arbitration and multilateral dispute settlement mechanisms, including those provided by the organization and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

China recently said it does not recognize the Unclos despite its assurance that it will cooperate with the Asean countries and firmly assert its full sovereignty over the Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal.

The six-principle statement was made after the regional bloc failed to issue its customary joint communiqué—the first time in 45 years--- owing to ongoing disputes between the Philippines and China and the failure of Cambodia to forge a consensus.

Both Manila and Hanoi had been pushing the mention of the issue in the communique, specifically the Scarborough Shoal, but Cambodian rejected any proposed text that mentions Scarborough Shoal.

Cambodia is the current ASEAN chairman, a known ally of China and a recipient of huge aid from Beijing.

The Philippines and Cambodia have an ongoing “word war. “ Manila criticized Phnom Penh for protecting the interests of China, a non-Asean claimant in the region.

Manila recently summoned Phnom Penh’s ambassador  to explain what he meant when he said that the “inflexible and non-negotiable position of two countries of ASEAN is dirty politics”.

The Department of Foreign Affairs made it clear that Undersecretary Erlinda Basilio is just stating the facts, given that she was present in all meetings in Phnom Penh.-Interaksyon (August 02, 2012 5:19PM)

UN publication completes PH ownership over Benham Rise -€“ NAMRIA

The United Nations (UN) needs to do just one last thing  to completely  award ownership of the Benham Rise in the Pacific Ocean to the Philippines – publish its concurrence in and adoption on the country’s claim, the Senate was told on Thursday.

“After we have submitted the maps containing the nits and bounds of the area including the technical descriptions which were sent to them more than a month ago, the remaining step  for the country’s total and legal ownership of the area is to publish it by the UN, and it will be binding on all countries around the world,” Administrator Peter Tiangco of the National Mapping and Resources Information Authority (NAMRIA) said on Thursday.

Speaking after the performance review hearing  of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) at the Senate, Tiangco said the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, which follows the rules of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), recently adopted the country’s position on the ownership of Benham Rise.

“We have  lots of meetings in the UN. Then after the hearing, the commission will decide if they are going to adopt our claim, and fortunately, they have adopted our recommendations, they informed us last April, and the next step is they will ask us if we agree to their recommendation. But of course, so we concurred and submitted the map containing all the technical data of the area,’ he said.

Tiangco debunked claims that China might stake a “claim” over the area since Benham rise lies in the eastern part of the country on the Pacific Ocean, where there is no island or country nearby. The prescription period for protest has lapsed, and China did not lodge any such protest.

Exploration in DOE’s hand

With this, Tiangco urged the Department of Energy (DOE) to immediately explore the area for possible mineral resources like manganese, hydrate and natural gas on the assumption that all offshore resources of countries around the world come from the continental shelf.

“We can now bid it out to possible investors for exploration [projects through] the Department of Energy. In order to understand what kind of mineral resources are underneath, you have to explore,” he said.

“Aside from manganese, we can only make a conclusion from other explored areas. Hydrate, natural gas possibly. As we have not yet explored the area, we have to take samples by drilling. Virtually all the offshore resources of the world  are located in the continental shelf . . . other than that we still have to explore it,” he said.

“The ball is now in the DOE’s court because our role is to prescribe our ownership on the area, on the exploration, within the ambit of DOE,” Tiangco said.

PH only owns the seabed and subsoil, not the waters

However, Tiangco clarified that only the seabed and the subsoil beneath it is owned by the country; not the water columns surrounding the area which can be explored and exploited by other countries for marine and aquatic use.

“Our claim to the Benham Rise is the seabed, what lies beneath it; and the water column is not ours, it is for everybody and you can explore for oil, extract oil, and other minerals in the area. But when it comes to the water column, [this is not part of the] entitlement approved by the United Nations,” Tiangco explained.

“Other countries can explore in the water columns, but not on the seabed and the sub-soil. All minerals under the sea bed and the subsoil are ours, “ he added.

Tiangco said that even if the present government fails to explore the area for lack of resources or technology, at least the next generation will “inherit the area from us today, that they can use in the future.”

“We’ve been told they [other countries and parties] are all clustered on the Western side; but this Benham Rise, it’s so huge and it’s clearly ours.  No one can [lay] claim over the area,  we have our own map of the seabed. But the most important here is we have secured the area,” he added, “if not for the present, then future generations.”.-Interaksyon (August 02, 2012 7:28PM)

Philippines mulling purchase of Italian frigates

The Philippines is eyeing the purchase of two "potent" Maestrale-class frigates from Italy to boost the country's capability to defend its territorial waters, particularly the West Philippine Sea.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told reporters Thursday that the refurbished frigates could arrive in the country late next year.

Officials are just waiting for the enactment of the Armed Forces of the Philippines modernization law, which Gazmin said they expect by the end of this year, to continue negotiations with Italy.

The two frigates are worth P11.7 billion.

The ships are primarily equipped for anti-submarine warfare with anti-aircraft and anti-surface capabilities. The Italian Navy has used the frigates since 1982 but the website says they are scheduled to be replaced by newer ships next year.

The frigates are equipped with missiles, torpedoes, naval guns and a 27-meter wide helicopter flight deck.

Defense Undersecretary for Munitions, Installations and Material Fernando Manalo described the frigates as "more lethal" than the Navy’s BRP Gregorio del Pilar, a re-commissioned US Hamilton-class Coast Guard cutter.

"This is more potent and strong," Gazmin also said. "Makakatulong ng maigi yan kasi bigyan tayo ng napakagandang (They will help us very much because they will give us a very good)defense posture." 
Manalo said if the contract is approved within the year, the two frigates will be "retired" from the service by the Italian Navy.

The frigates will then undergo refurbishing, which will take up to nine months.

He stressed that the frigates would not be stripped down like the Hamilton-class cutters.

"We demanded that we will not accept what is less than what has been installed in the vessel. Nothing will be removed," Manalo said.

Modernization in full swing

Gazmin also said the military’s modernization is in full swing with about 60 percent of 140 contracts for the program already underway.

The rest of the contracts will depend on the enactment of the AFP modernization law, he said.

By the end of this year, Manalo said they are expecting the delivery of about 21 UH1H “Huey” helicopters, "two to four" attack choppers and two Multi-purpose Assault Crafts.-Interaksyon (August 02, 2012 2:28M)

US considers more bombers, submarines for Pacific

Pentagon planners will consider adding bombers and attack submarines as part of a growing US focus on security challenges in the Asia-Pacific, a senior Defense Department official said on Wednesday.

"We will take another look" at sending more such muscle to the strategic hub of Guam in the western Pacific, now that this has been recommended by an independent review of US regional military plans, Robert Scher, deputy assistant secretary of defense for plans, told lawmakers.

US strategy calls for shifting military, diplomatic and economic resources toward the region after a decade of land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan sparked by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

The Defense Department, however, must weigh the issue from a broad global perspective and take into account competing requirements, Scher testified before the US House of Representatives' Armed Services subcommittee on readiness.

Guam, a US territory about three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to the Philippines, played an active role during the Vietnam War as a way station for US bombers.

The Air Force operates from the island's Andersen Air Force Base, which hosts a rotational unit of B-52 bombers. The major US Navy presence includes a squadron of three attack submarines.

Independent assessment

The new assessment of the US military force posture in the region was carried out by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS, a nonpartisan policy research group, subsequent to a congressional mandate.

It recommended in a report made public last week stationing one or more additional attack submarines in Guam to provide what it called a critical edge against "anti-access, area denial" -- technologies being developed by China to keep the US military at bay.

CSIS listed as another option permanently relocating a B-52 squadron of 12 aircraft to Guam, rather than the current practice of rotating in from bases in the continental United States.

The central geostrategic uncertainty that the United States and its allies and partners face in the region "is how China's growing power and influence will impact order and stability in the years ahead," the CSIS review said.

It said US forces can help shape the peacetime environment by standing behind US security commitments -- a move the review said would "dissuade Chinese coercion or North Korean aggression."

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has announced plans to "rebalance" US naval forces from a nearly 50-50 split between the Atlantic and the Pacific to a 60-40 mix in favor of the Asia-Pacific. The details of this shift have not been spelled out, although officials have said much of the buildup will involve new ships.

Sher, in joint written testimony to the panel with David Helvey, an acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for the region, said the Defense Department agreed with the CSIS assessment that "there are opportunities to move forward with Guam and send an important signal to the region."

Neither additional bombers nor additional attack submarines are in current US plans for the region but will be considered based on CSIS's "good work," Scher told Reuters after the hearing.

David Berteau, director of the CSIS International Security Program and a co-director of the review, said Guam cold absorb additional submarines without a huge amount of extra military construction costs, for instance for pier space or shore facilities.

The Defense Department also will continue to explore opportunities with the Philippines, a treaty ally, of deploying forces to unspecified "priority areas" to enhance maritime security, the Defense Department officials testified.-Interaksyon (August 02, 2012 7:59PM)

Thailand seeks increase in rice import quota from Philippines

Thailand expects to negotiate an increase in its rice-import quota to the Philippines to more than 100,000 tons to compensate for Manila’s decision to maintain its high import tariff for another five years.

Under its World Trade Organization (WTO) and Asean Free Trade Agreement (Afta) obligations, the Philippines is required to provide such compensation for maintaining the high tariff.

Srirat Rastapana, director general of the Thai Trade Negotiations Department, said on Tuesday that Thai rice exports should have a brighter future in the Philippines thanks to growing demand for the grain there. As a result, Thailand must negotiate to ensure the import quota is increased, or the high tariff could see Thai rice lose market share.

Manila recently asked the WTO for permission to keep its import tariff on rice at a high 40 percent for another five years through 2017. In return, it must increase the Country Specific Quotas for Thailand and other rice-exporting countries.

Currently, Thailand is allocated a quota of 98,000 tons under WTO rules.

Thai and Philippine officials negotiated here on Tuesday the minimum market access for rice imports. Manila is also negotiating rice quotas with Vietnam, Pakistan, India, China, the US, Australia, Canada and El Salvador.

Srirat said that Thailand and the Philippines had yet to reach a final agreement on the size of Thailand’s rice quota because the kingdom was pressing Manila to accept a quota of several hundred thousand tons.

The Philippines must increase its quota for Thailand under its Afta and WTO commitments. Manila does not have to abolish import tariffs on rice, because it classifies the commodity as a “highly sensitive good.” However, it has offered Thailand an annual rice-import quota, on which no tariff is imposed.

Under the WTO and Afta, the Philippine import tariff on Thai rice shipments beyond the import quota is 40 percent for 2010-2012, and will be reduced to 35 percent in 2015.

The Philippines has also promised to import at last 367,000 tons of rice from Thailand. The country is also expected to import 50,000 tons of premium-grade Thai rice.

Thailand also wants to participate in drafting the bidding conditions for rice imports into the Philippines to ensure transparency.-Black Pearl (August 03, 2012)

UN agencies hail Philippines’ remarkable rise in breastfeeding rates

Several United Nations agencies have lauded the Philippine government for the significant increase in breastfeeding rates in the country.

United Nations Children's Fund Representative in the Philippines Tomoo Hozumi said a strong policy and legislative framework and joint efforts among sectors in pushing breastfeeding have made a difference.

"The strong legislative and policy framework in the Philippines is being recognized as one of the best in the world, protecting every Filipino mother's right to breastfeed," Hozumi said.

Hozumi cited the Milk Code or Executive Order 51 signed by former President Corazon Aquino in 1986 which ensures that breastfeeding is protected and women are given clear information on the benefits of breastfeeding without undue influence of infant formula companies.

"The very substantial improvement in the exclusive breastfeeding rate that we are seeing today is a dividend of such efforts made by leaders and people in the Philippines over the last two decades. These laws are something which the whole nation should be proud of and continue to uphold," Hozumi said.

Figures recently released by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI-DOST) showed that exclusive breastfeeding rates have risen from 36 percent in 2008 to 47 percent in 2011.

The initiation of breastfeeding within one hour of delivery has increased from 32 percent in 2008 to 52 percent in 2011.

The government is leading the initiatives on breastfeeding promotion across the country in collaboration with various partners.

Dr. Soe Nyunt-U, WHO representative in the Philippines, said the increase in breastfeeding rates brings the Philippines closer to achieving the Millennium Development Goals in child health.

"We should continue to intensify the campaign to promote, protect and support breastfeeding in order to gain more grounds," he said.-Black Pearl (August 03, 2012)

ASEAN economic union muddied by South China Sea squabble

Discord in Southeast Asia over how to deal with Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea comes as the region struggles to overcome competing national interests and form a European Union (EU)-style economic community by 2015.

Political leaders and officials say the row may not directly affect plans by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for the economic integration of countries ranging from wealthy Singapore to impoverished Myanmar.

But what doesn’t help is China’s growing investment in the bloc’s poorer members, which critics say gives it influence that it has effectively used to block a unified ASEAN stance in the South China Sea dispute. The South China Sea, which stretches from China to Indonesia and from Vietnam to the Philippines, lies atop what are believed to be rich reserves of oil and gas.

"It’s not going to hold progress (on integration) hostage," ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan told diplomats in Jakarta, referring to a recent meeting in Cambodia where rifts over the South China Sea prevented foreign ministers from issuing a communique for the first time in its history. "It is an early warning sign…this will not be the last."

Southeast Asia is a hot destination for investors seeking returns that are drying up in Europe, still to recover in the United States and slowing in the rest of Asia.

Estimated net flows into offshore ASEAN funds stood at $1.4 billion in 2012 through June, according to data reported until July 10. By comparison, China and India offshore funds saw net outflows worth $1.6 billion and $185 million respectively.

Investors have high hopes for plans by the 10-member ASEAN for a single market and production base for a combined economy of $2 trillion, with free movement of goods, services, investment and skilled labor among 600 million people.

While there is consensus in ASEAN for economic union, the group struggles with political differences ranging from a land border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia to a cultural spat between Malaysia and Indonesia. The most destructive is the inability to deal with claims by four of its members, and China and Taiwan, in the South China Sea.

Since only some elements of the economic plan will be in place by 2015, such as zero tariffs, more developed members may have to push on with integration in a two-tier model, just as the EU did, leaving the others at risk of missing out on regional investment.

ASEAN’s older and more developed members are Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Brunei. Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar joined later.

The two-tier model could leave fringe members further exposed to influence from China -- and the United States -- as they seek influence through investment and diplomacy in a "Great Game" played out in the tropics.

China is already the top investor in Cambodia and Myanmar and is catching up with investment by Europe, Japan and the United States in the region overall.

"The difference is that China is giving something that Cambodia needs, while ASEAN is promising something that is abstract," said Aleksius Jemadu, dean of the school of political and social sciences at Pelita Harapan University in Jakarta.

"ASEAN countries will act based more on their domestic needs…When this community is built we can’t expect them to be in unison, just like what happened to the South China Sea."

At the Phnom Penh meeting of foreign ministers, some diplomats said Cambodia blocked the South China Sea dispute being put on the agenda at China’s behest. Cambodian diplomats in turn accused the Philippines and Vietnam of trying to hijack the meeting.

China has maintained it wants to deal with the issue bilaterally.

The Philippines has said it deplored ASEAN’s failure to address the row and criticized Cambodia for its handling of the issue.

Cambodia had gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of $900 in 2011 and foreign direct investment (FDI) of $800 million in 2010, according to World Bank figures. That compares to Singapore’s $46,241 GDP per capita and $39 billion in FDI. China Daily has said Beijing’s investment in Cambodia from 1994 until 2011 was $8.8 billion.

Even without the economic and political differences, a lack of capacity among some of ASEAN’s members is making it hard to implement economic agreements.

Completion of measures towards a single market in its 2010-2011 phase was only 49% overall, according to ASEAN’s latest scorecard, with reform lagging in food and agriculture.

"Early achievements were based on low hanging fruit…The process of transposing regional commitments into national laws is the biggest (challenge)," said Subash Pillai, ASEAN’s director of market integration.

The Philippines struggles to send officials to meetings sometimes and can be slow making decisions, insiders say, and may even risk falling into the weaker group of Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar. These four are already being given more time to fully reduce tariffs.

"They might not be up to the same level," Mr. Pillai said.

A recent Reuters visit to Myanmar’s central bank found just a few idle computers, a stark contrast to the soaring towers that control banks and policy in Singapore and Indonesia.


The bloc’s ASEAN Minus X mechanism allows "flexible" implementation of commitments, by enabling members to opt out of economic schemes if they are not ready.

This has already been used. Singapore and Laos are the only members pushing ahead with an agreement on education services. Six countries including Vietnam signed an agreement to link their stock markets by the end of 2011, to spur electronic cross-border trading, but only Singapore and Malaysia are implementing it.

"You cannot expect all countries to be moving ahead at the same time. The ones lagging behind will suffer," said another senior ASEAN official, who declined to be identified.

The South China Sea spat also shows the problems ASEAN has resolving major disputes. Unlike the EU, an inspiration if not a model, ASEAN lacks elected members of a central parliament, a powerful executive body or a regional court to make law and enforce its will. Instead, it has the Jakarta-based ASEAN Secretariat, a body with little clout.

"Without a strong central mechanism it is very difficult to coordinate and survey all the issues that could become big issues," Mr. Surin said.

The bloc will face further challenges as it tries to standardize customs procedures and open up protected industries such as financial services to competition from within. It has implemented free transfer of profits and dividends but needs to remove further barriers to intra-regional investment flows.

"They are behind schedule (on the economic community) and clearly not going to make it…they are not going to see much action on services," said Hal Hill, professor of Southeast Asian economies at the Australian National University.

And China’s expanding influence looms large.

"The Phnom Penh meetings in July were significant not just because China sought to divide ASEAN by leaning on Cambodia, but because China was happy to do so, so brazenly," said Bryony Lau, a researcher on the South China Sea for the International Crisis Group think tank in Jakarta.-Black Pearl (August 2, 2012)

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Philippines arms itself with new pacts

With the United States playing coy about its commitment to military defense ties, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) sharply divided on how to respond to China's increasing assertiveness to territorial claims in the South China Sea, the Philippines has in recent weeks forged new pacts with non-regional allies Australia and Japan to hedge its bets. 

On July 24, the Philippine Senate ratified the Status of Visiting Forces (SOFA) agreement with Australia, which had been pending in the legislative body since it was signed five years ago. In announcing the pact, Senator Edgardo Angara said the Philippines needs "a protective defensive treaty with our friends and allies". 

He suggested the treaty will help to provide a defense shield for the Philippines that along with other agreements will run from north to south, from Japan and South Korea to Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, and Australia. 

Another senator, Loren Legarda, more explicitly linked the pact to conflicts in the South China Sea. "We are faced by grave dangers and threats not present 15 years ago and the Philippines is at the strategic center of all these realities. A strategic center that has no fulcrum will not be able to realistically wage a sustainable, winning crusade against these regional and global threats." 

Signed in 2007 and later ratified by the Australian parliament, the agreement had been on the backburner due to nationalistic opposition in the Philippine senate. The SOFA does not obligate either party to come to the aid of the other in case of a third-party attack, but rather covers issues of jurisdiction over Australian troops sent to train in the Philippines and vice versa as the two countries conduct and potentially enhance joint military training. 

The two countries already had an active defense cooperation, mainly joint maritime exercises and counter-terrorism training, based on a memorandum of understanding signed in 1995. The Philippines has also received Australian military aid, including advanced training for senior officers in Australian military schools along with the transfer to the Philippines of 28 flat-bottomed airboats that can be used for both military and disaster-relief purposes. 

"Australia has been assisting the Philippines in strengthening its maritime security capability with initiatives such as the Coast Watch South project and the joint Maritime Training Activity LUMBAS. These initiatives are expected to be further expanded and strengthened under the SOFA," a statement issued by the president's palace said. 

"Once in force, the agreement will provide a more comprehensive legal framework for the presence of one country's forces in the other. It is reciprocal in nature, with the same obligations being assumed by both parties," the Australian Embassy said. 

Earlier in the month, Manila concluded a defense agreement with Japan. Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin met his Japanese counterpart Satoshi Morimoto in Tokyo on July 2 to sign a Statement of Intent of the Greater Defense Cooperation Agreement. 

The five-year pact provides for high-level, working level and unit-to-unit military exchanges between the two countries, policy talks on security and defense concerns, education exchanges, and sharing of regional and maritime information. The bilateral defense agreement also covers cooperation in international peacekeeping operations and includes provisions for capacity building. 

During a visit to Japan last September, Philippine President Benigno Aquino discussed with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda the need to strengthen ties between their respective coast guards and navies. 

"We share with the Philippines the basic sense of values as well as strategic interest," Noda said in a news conference. "We've agreed on frequent dialogue between top leaders and ministers, launch of vice-ministerial strategic talks, and strengthening of cooperation between maritime safety authorities and defense authorities." 

Included in the military pact is Tokyo's approval for Manila to acquire 12 patrol boats for use by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG). According to reports, 10 new 40-meter long vessels packed with modern electronics gear will be turned over under terms of Japan's Official Development Aid while two additional bigger vessels are being eyed for transfer to the Philippine government under a grant. 

These new vessels will not ostensibly fall under Manila's stated plans to build a "minimum credible defense" because they will be transferred to the PCG. However, the move signals a potential bigger role for the PCG in deterring Chinese fishing boats from poaching in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ). 

Militarized maritime

Aquino earlier emphasized a "white to white, grey to grey" policy when it came to securing its maritime borders, meaning coastguard ships should be the ones to deal with civilian Chinese vessels and fishing boats rather than naval vessels. 

Japanese newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbun was quoted as saying that "the move to supply the Philippines with patrol vessels [is meant] ... to raise the Philippines' maritime safety capabilities in the South China Sea, where it is clashing with China over sovereignty rights". 

The new pacts may have already emboldened Philippine policymakers. This week, Manila's Department of Energy announced it will auction three contested areas in the South China Sea for oil and gas exploration to multinational energy companies. The blocks, which Manila claims are within its EEZ, are off the Philippine province of Palawan. 

"The Philippines exercises exclusive sovereign rights and authority to explore and exploit resources within these areas to the exclusion of other countries. There is no doubt and dispute about such rights," said Philippine Undersecretary of Energy Jose Layug. 

Nonetheless, the new defense pacts were hotly debated by Philippine lawmakers. Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, former chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, opposed the ratification of the pact with Australia and with its passage raised questions about what she described as "vague" provisions of the treaty and how these "will spawn myriad irritants in [Philippine]-Australia relations". 

Harry Roque, director of the Institute of International Legal Studies of the University of the Philippines' Law Center, has low expectations for the deterrent impact of the new military agreement with Australia. "Like the rest of ASEAN and even the US, I think Australia has too much at stake with China. They, too, cannot be involved in a dispute that does not involve them and might antagonize their biggest trading partner." 

Though he opposes the presence of foreign troops in the Philippines, Roque conceded that the SOFA's provisions are more agreeable than the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) the Philippines has in place with the US. The new treaty, he said, "leaves soldiers accused of non-service related offenses to Philippine authorities" unlike the US agreement. 

Despite these misgivings, the treaty sailed through the senate on a 17-1 vote. The easy passage was a reflection of the rising pressure on the government to better address its festering maritime disputes with China. A series of incidents in the past months, including the two-month stand-off at Scarborough Shoal have intensified diplomatic and military frictions between the two countries. 

Tensions threatened to spike two weeks ago when a Chinese warship ran aground on Half Moon Shoal in the disputed Spratly Islands. The missile frigate was stranded just 60 nautical miles from the nearest Philippine island, Palawan, and was within the Philippines' EEZ where foreign naval ships are not supposed to conduct patrols. 

Last week, Philippine officials based in Pag-asa island, one of the largest in the Spratlys occupied by the Philippines, reported that a flotilla of more than 20 Chinese fishing boats escorted by a couple of Chinese missile frigates were seen poaching for reefs and other marine products some five nautical miles off the island. It was said that the Chinese vessels were operating in the vicinity of Subi and Mischief reefs, the latter of which hosts a Chinese naval outpost. 

Mischief Reef was part of the territories claimed by the Philippines until Chinese warships seized it in 1994. Recent reports said that the waters surrounding the reef are now undergoing dredging to accommodate larger ships so that the reef may be used as a staging ground for more Chinese fishing flotillas. 

In both instances, the Philippine government had stood by helplessly as it lacks sufficient military power to challenge such Chinese provocations. At the same time, its traditional allies in the US and ASEAN have failed to come sufficiently to Manila's defense against China. That served as motivation for the new and enhanced pacts with Australia and Japan. Aquino's government is also considering similar new defense agreements with Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. 

Though these pacts do not necessarily mean these countries will aid the Philippines should a shooting war break out with China, they will help build up military capabilities through joint exercises, training, education, and arms deals. While China has apparently seized on the Philippines' naval weaknesses, the situation is evolving as more regional players enter the fray.-ASIA Times (August 02, 2012)

China unveils oil offensive in S.China Sea squabble

First came the diplomatic offensive, then the flexing of military muscle.

Now, China is opening a third front to assert its claims in the South China Sea - moving ahead with its first major tender of oil and gas blocks in disputed parts of its waters.

China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC), a state oil giant, invited foreign firms in late June to bid on oil blocks that overlap territory being explored by Vietnam, putting the 160,000 sq km of water on offer at the forefront of Asia's biggest potential military flashpoint.

Oil companies have until next June to decide whether to bid for the nine blocks, said a Chinese industry source with knowledge of the matter. CNOOC, parent of Hong Kong-listed CNOOC Ltd <0883.HK>, has received many informal enquiries from foreign oil companies, added the source, who did not want to be identified.

Beijing claims almost all the South China Sea, a body of water believed to hold rich reserves of oil and gas and which stretches from China to Indonesia and from Vietnam to the Philippines. Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia claim parts of it.

Any conflict in the sea, one of the world's busiest trade routes, would have global repercussions given the $5 trillion in ship-borne trade carried on its waters each year.

"The Chinese government's stance is clearer than ever ... They want to take on and develop this region," said an executive at a global oil major, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The Philippines put two disputed blocks on offer on Tuesday but only received three separate bids for exploration rights, an indication that there was little appetite to go up against China in the South China Sea.

"China's view is that the little countries, like Vietnam and the Philippines, are increasingly stealing its resources and it must demonstrate it is serious about upholding its claims," said Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

Map of South China Sea

Graphic on Spratlys:

Graphic on naval power:

Vietnam's state oil firm, Petrovietnam, has condemned the CNOOC tender, calling it a "serious violation of international law" since the blocks lie within the country's 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. It urged energy firms not to participate in the tender.

CNOOC Chairman Wang Yilin told reporters last month the tender was attracting interest from U.S. companies, but declined to name them.

"China does not have any well and oil production in the resource-rich mid-south area of the South China Sea, while other countries have produced more than 50 million tonnes of oil in the territory ... that China claims," Zhou Shouwei, a former vice president of CNOOC, said in July.

Other analysts have cast doubt on the figure, since Vietnam pumps most of its 16 million tonnes (126 million barrels) of oil a year from undisputed areas, and the Philippines has yet to tap into significant amounts of oil or gas in territory also claimed by China.


Small, independent oil firms could be the main respondents to China's offer, analysts say. Global oil majors will be more wary of the escalating tensions, especially those already working offshore Vietnam such as Exxon Mobil , Russia's Gazprom and India's ONGC .

Beijing awarded a South China Sea oil block in 1992 that has yet to be explored due to the dispute. The block, owned by U.S.-based Harvest Natural Resources , overlaps territory being explored by Petrovietnam and Canada's Talisman .

"There are hundreds of independent upstream companies in the world willing to go anywhere for a small volume of oil to turn a profit," said Kang Wu, managing director of consultancy FACTS Global Energy.

"Companies will go to the disputed South China Sea and rely on the Chinese government to protect them and ensure that drilling is safe. If they cannot get those guarantees, then they don't drill, don't spend a penny, and don't lose."

CNOOC has limited experience in deepwater drilling and will need help from foreign companies in the South China Sea. The $89 billion company recently launched its first ultra-deepwater rig near Hong Kong, and could move it further south to explore deeper waters in the South China Sea, according to Chinese energy experts. CNOOC has described the vessel as "mobile national territory".

Beijing's oil offensive follows moves on the diplomatic and military fronts.

At a meeting last month of foreign ministers of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), China's influence led to an unprecedented breakdown in the 10-member group's preference for unity.

China's close ally Cambodia, the meeting's host, blocked every attempt to put the South China Sea on the agenda, said diplomats from other member nations. Cambodian diplomats in turn accused the Philippines and Vietnam of trying to hijack the meeting.

On the military front, China has approved the establishment of a military garrison, located in Sansha city in the Paracel Islands, for the South China Sea.


Nevertheless, analysts believe Beijing wants to avoid a conflict, particularly if it raises the prospect of U.S. intervention.

"Energy exploration activities in these disputed waters will lead to more diplomatic rows, and potentially skirmishes between surveying and law enforcement vessels of opposing claimants, but it is unlikely to trigger military confrontations," said Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, Northeast Asia Director for the International Crisis Group think-tank.

"However, if it is discovered that the area does in fact contain energy reserves and if China decides to drill in these areas, the situation could change drastically."
CNOOC has drilled around a dozen deep sea wells so far in the South China Sea, focusing mainly in the north and staying away from politically sensitive waters to the south.

Vietnam and the Philippines have partnered with foreign oil companies to develop oil blocks deeper into disputed waters, sparking several tense incidents between exploration vessels and Chinese military vessels.

In the Philippines, Forum Energy is planning to drill its first exploration well in the Reed Bank, which is also claimed by China, possibly before the end of the year.
Vietnam offered eight blocks more than three years ago that overlap with China's recent oil offering, although no exploration wells have been dug.

Estimates for proven and undiscovered oil reserves in the South China Sea range from 28 billion to as high as 213 billion barrels of oil, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a March 2008 report. That would be equal to more than 60 years of Chinese demand under the most optimistic outlook, and surpass every country's proven oil reserves except Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, according to the BP Statistical Review.

For natural gas, the South China Sea has a 50 percent chance of at least 3.79 trillion cubic metres of undiscovered conventional gas, equivalent to more than 30 years of Chinese consumption, according to the U.S. Geological Survey in a June 2010 report.-Yahoo News (August 02, 2012 5:32AM)